16 July 2004 The 15th International AIDS Conference wound up its week of work in Bangkok, Thailand, today with ringing calls from UN officials for solidarity in the battle against the pandemic.
The world would never be the same again because AIDS had rewritten the rules, leaving "millions of orphans, children taking care of families, schools without teachers, States without fiscal revenues, fields without farmers, and rising numbers of people living in extreme poverty," said Dr. Peter Piot, Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).
An exceptional threat demanded exceptional financing, development, trade rules, activist strategies, public service delivery and fiscal ceilings, he said, calling for action across those fronts.
"Some of the greatest challenges we face today are of our own making: the obstructions of bureaucracy, the injustice of stigma, the rivalry, lack of coherence and the failure of political leadership," Dr. Piot said.
Flying in after his investigation of the health status of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in troubled Darfur, western Sudan, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Lee Jong-wook, echoed this call for action. "I know that voices have been raised, I know that fingers have been pointed, but it is through our solidarity that we will finally defeat this menace," he said.
The WHO chief also pledged the agency's full participation at the forefront of efforts to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS.
He added that history would judge the world by whether it met the bold commitments of the Conference, whose theme was 'Access for All.'
With more than 5 million people living with AIDS in South Asia, most of them in India, Indian film star and social activist Shabana Azmi told conference participants yesterday that young people were not being fully informed about their choices or given the necessary support to keep themselves safe from HIV.
Ms. Azmi, a UN Population Fund (UNFPA) Goodwill Ambassador known for her strong commitment to social justice causes - the rights of women, minorities, displaced slum dwellers, AIDS patients - was the first celebrity in India to join a campaign to raise HIV/AIDS awareness at a time when such talk in public was taboo.
In another development, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pledged to contribute an additional $50 million to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, an initiative of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, bringing the Foundation's total donation to the Fund to $150 million.
South Asian religious leaders in Bangkok, meanwhile, formed the South Asia Inter-Religious Council on HIV/AIDS, comprising senior representatives of the Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Sikh, Jain and Baha'i faiths.
The initiative followed from the South Asia Interfaith Consultation on Children, Young People and HIV/AIDS, organized by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Kathmandu, Nepal, in December 2003. At the meeting, participants pledged to strengthen their cooperation in addressing the pandemic.